Dementia is an ailment that can effect older cats. Learn how to recognize it and what you can do to help your senior cat continue living a quality life.

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM
October 07, 2020
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Credit: EdithRum / Getty

With good care, many cats now live into their late teens and even twenties. Though with advanced age can come the problem of cat dementia or cognitive dysfunction. While some people have questioned if cats can get dementia in the past, it is now a recognized syndrome similar to “sundowners syndrome” in an elderly human.

Symptoms of Cat Dementia

Dementia in cats is a slowly progressive disease related to aging in your cat’s brain. At first, you may not notice some of the common symptoms of dementia, but over time, it suddenly becomes apparent that your cat is struggling.

Signs of cat dementia may include:

  • Pacing
  • Extensive vocalization
  • Excessive grooming
  • Eating less
  • Getting “stuck” in a corner or not knowing how to turn around
  • More frequent accidents outside the litter box

Diagnosing Dementia in Cats

Your first step in diagnosing cat dementia is to rule out any physical ailments. For example, if your cat is arthritic, she may not be comfortable going down the stairs to her litter box location. There is no specific test for dementia, but together with your vet, a thorough look at your cat’s history, her current behavior, and any physical problems she might have will indicate the diagnosis of dementia.

Once physical problems are identified and treated, you need to look at how to change your cat’s environment and care to help her with the changes associated with aging.

What Can I Do to Manage My Cat’s Dementia?

Some supplements to your cat’s diet may be helpful. The ideal additions are vitamins and other antioxidants including Vitamin B12, Vitamin E, beta carotene, and Vitamin C. Carnitine has been recommended as a possible help and Omega 3 fatty acids are a great addition to a senior cat’s diet for multiple reasons. Before adding any of these “extras”, check with your veterinarian to be sure you won’t upset the balance of your cat’s normal diet. Too much of a “good thing” could be a problem for some of these.

Think about mental stimulation, too. Your cat can’t do crossword puzzles, but a food puzzle toy might intrigue her. Take time to entice her with a feather toy or toss favorite fetch item for her. At the same time, keep her mental challenges for daily life simple—add an extra litter box, provide extra sunny sleeping spots, and feed her on a set routine with meals so you know if she ate or not.

If your kitty is becoming more active at night, put some night lights around the house to help her see. You may need to start brushing her more often as she isn’t grooming herself normally. Try to maintain normal routines as much as possible.

Medical Treatment for Feline Dementia

There are not FDA approved medications for feline dementia, but some treatments approved for dogs have been used “off label” in cats. These include SAM-e and selegiline. Your veterinarian would have you sign a form acknowledging that these are not currently approved for cats, but they have been beneficial for some cats.

Perhaps the biggest recommendation is to be patient and understanding with your senior cat. She is doing the best she can to figure out her way in a changing world, and it’s our job as cat parents to make sure our kitties have the most comfortable, fulfilling life possible for as long as they can!